We are in a time of extraordinary growth in Christianity fueled primarily, as Sanneh writes, by "several factors: the end of colonial rule; the effect of mother tongue development and Bible translation; indigenous cultural renewal and local agency; and the theological stimulation of the Christian adoption of the African names of God." (41-42) Sanneh provides new perspective in the study of the expansion of Christianity, which complements my prior reading of Latourette's seven volumes on the Expansion of Christianity. Sanneh suggests the missionary should give "priority to indigenous response and local appropriation over against missionary transmission and direction." In other words, the notion that the gospel has been "from the West to the Rest" has been a false view of the expansion of Christianity. Sanneh, a Gambian born former-Muslim adherent, provides a reversed perspective highlighting the "indigenous discovery of Christianity rather than the Christian discovery of indigenous societies." (10)
WHAT IS SANNEH'S CENTRAL PURPOSE FOR THE BOOK?
What was Sanneh's central purposes in writing this book?
It appears that Sanneh's purpose was to assist the Post-Christian Western Church to make "live contact" with Post-Western Christianity. To accomplish this, Sanneh explains this shift of the Church to the Majority world outside the West, including the
One of Sanneh's key points is that "local renewal takes place without global orchestration." Sanneh makes a distinction between "world" and "global" as they relate to Christianity on the grounds that "world Christianity has nothing of the global structures of power and economics that global Christianity presumes." (78) Because new communities have embraced Christianity, mostly without Western orchestration, Sanneh calls for a "fresh understanding of the gospel in world history." (14) That fresh understanding should be a simple as if a child were in our midst as we explained it; after all, that is the model Jesus gave as he explained the kingdom of God. Sanneh reminds us, "Jesus measured spiritual deafness, not literacy."
The Western Christian world is caught in what Sanneh calls a "Western debilitating guilt complex." While much of the Western Christian world predicted a decline in Christian numbers, Christian expansion continued to gather momentum in Asia and Africa. John R. Mott told the delegates of the ecumenical conference at Edinburgh 1910 "to expect Africa to be taken over by Islam." However, Sanneh offers hope: "A post-Christian West is not so far gone that it cannot make live contact with a post-Western Christianity." (80) "The West should get over its Christendom guilt complex about Christianity as colonialism by accepting that Christianity has survived its European political habits and is thriving today in its post-Western phase among non-Western populations, sometimes because of, and in spite of, Western missionaries." (74)
The Western worldview may need adjustment in order for such contact and revitalization of the Church in the West to take place. "In spite of its impregnable roots in secular autonomy, individualism will likely be modified by the communicative realities of cross-cultural encounter." (7)
There is a fresh theological advantage to societies where the recent large-scale conversion followed the adoption of indigenous names of God. These names of God are basic to the structure of traditional societies, forming and regulating their cultures. "It's therefore hard to think of viable social systems without the name of God, but easy to envision societies that have become vulnerable because they lost the name or the sense of the transcendent. (Maybe there is a lesson for a post-Christian West here.)" (31)
My case study paper has been informed greatly by Sanneh's perspective of indigenous theological advantage coupled with the growing new reality of a global Church, which celebrates difference while experiencing a greater unity in the Body of Christ globally. Sanneh writes, "The world is becoming one, not from the synthesis of all cultures into one, or from the discovery of a common genetic pool, but from the accelerating pressure to acknowledge and celebrate difference when that is no longer remote. That is the deep movement of the spirit in our time."
HOW DOES SANNEH DESCRIBE CONVERSION?
Conversion, it should be easily agreed, is "the turning of ourselves to God, and that means all of ourselves without leaving anything behind or outside." (43) I recall a meeting in India where a well-known Sri Lankan Christian leader in dialogue was asking the urgent question of conversion at the gathering. Conversion is confusion in India, besides being illegal. My response to the "dialogue" was to say conversion is like adoption, being taken into another family. This Sri Lankan leader, whose name I withhold, stopped the dialogue and began to preach in a way that exhibited a stark disagreement with the only white guy in the crowd, me. Because conversion is such a volatile subject, especially in India, I appreciate the clarity and simplicity with which Sanneh approaches the subject.
This book challenges us to look for new models of faith and community. Sanneh describes how, in the current expansion of World Christianity, "fishing nets in the form of religious vocations, formation, and apostolic structures will be needed to avert disarray and disenchantment." He writes, "Growth requires the expansion of both physical buildings and horizons to make room for new models of truth and community." (40)